By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
Fresh off his maiden NASCAR Cup Series win last Saturday at Daytona, William Byron has been upbeat now that he got the win, but also a contract extension.
On Tuesday, Hendrick Motorsports announced that Byron will stay in the No. 24 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE through 2022. A day later, Byron discussed that talks about staying with them have been going on for some time with Rick Hendrick saying the deal was signed on August 8, according to Bob Pockrass.
“I had one year left after this one, so it wasn’t super urgent to get it done or anything. But when Hendrick came to me and wanted to sign for a couple more years, I was thrilled and I think it’s worked out well for both of us,” said Byron. “The fact that they have confidence in me is a great thing and I can just go out there and race as hard as I can and try to do the best that I can for them. They’ve made that known that they just want to focus on the race track and I’m going to try to do that throughout the playoffs, for sure.”
Despite Byron’s primary sponsor Liberty University lasts through 2021, it’s a huge deal for him to have some stability in his Cup career in the foreseeable future and credits both Rick Hendrick and Jeff Gordon’s confidence for him that he’s staying.
“(They) have confidence in me no matter what sponsor or whoever is on my car,” said Byron. “They’ve made that known since I’ve been there, is that my deal is separate from anything like that and I can go out there and compete hard, drive their car and they’re going to make sure that I can be on the race track each and every week.
“So, I think that’s where my confidence comes from – just knowing that I’m going to be in that car. Definitely with this deal, I can focus on the playoffs and focus on trying to win more races.”
Now with those two things out of the way, Byron’s mind shifts towards making an impact in his second NASCAR playoff berth, especially on the execution side of things as the Round of 16 consists of Darlington, Richmond and Bristol.
“I think that now having that first win of the season and first win for me and this team, I feel like we’re more focused on just executing the details of each race,” Byron going into the playoffs. “Obviously, our goal going into this year was to make it further than we did last year in the playoffs, which was the Round of 12 last year. So, if we can make it to the Round of 8 this year, it would be a success, for sure.”
In the 22-year-old’s eyes, the most difficult round in the playoffs, circling Richmond Raceway as his toughest, thus having a strong effort in the series’ third trip to Darlington being key.
“We just have to take it one race at a time. A lot of these tracks are good for us,” said Byron. “I think the first round is probably the weakest of the tracks for us, so we just have to try to focus on that, try to just compete in every race and hopefully get out of this first round with a great race at Darlington. Richmond is definitely our toughest of the three, so we’re going to have to really work hard at that race to have a good run.”
Byron expanded on the challenge Richmond provides where he’ll have to lean on notes from Loudon as it’ll be one of two tracks left the series haven’t visited yet.
“I think we had a good run (at New Hampshire). We also finished OK at Phoenix, as well. I think we finished 11th at New Hampshire and 10th at Phoenix. So, right around the top-10, which is kind of our goal going into Richmond,” said Byron. “I think if we can finish in the top-10, it’ll give us an opportunity to try and win at a couple other tracks. I think it’s one of those tracks where you kind of lower your expectations a little bit for us and try to just get out of there with a solid finish. One that we can kind of gather the points we need to going into the next couple.”
With Richmond being two weeks away, the focuses shifts back to Darlington where HMS will have the luxury of starting towards the front. Byron said it’s nice to have his teammates Chase Elliott on pole and Alex Bowman starting alongside him in Row 2, but teamwork isn’t super essential like last Saturday because it takes so much more to be competitive.
“Darlington is not like a speedway race or somewhere where you can really work together. But I think that for us all starting up towards the front, the three of us, I think that’s going to be great,” said Byron. “It’s going to be an advantage to have three cars up there competing for stage wins and things of that nature. I think it’s all going to elevate our game and just gives us that advantage. Starting up front is just huge at any race track.
“Darlington is luckily a long race, so even if you start towards the back, you’ve got plenty of time to get towards the front. It’s going to help having a great pit stall selection – that’s what really comes to mind for me is having that great pit stall.”
Byron’s quest of making it out of the first round begins Sunday with the 71st Annual Cook Out Southern 500 at Darlington (6:00 p.m. ET on NBCSN) where he’ll roll off third.